And so it begins: Thanksgiving recipes online and Christmas decorations in the stores. It’s the season for entertaining and eating. When I think about this time of the year, visions of family, feasts and fun come to mind, but holiday meals can be fraught with stress and excess due to overeating, minimal exercise, extra calories from booze and sweets and a lesser intake of healthy produce and fluids.
The end result of all the festivities can be a GI tract under duress. So here are some tips to help your gut thrive, not just survive the holidays.
Try sticking to a regular schedule when it comes to:
— When you eat.
— How much you eat.
For many people, holidays signal a vacation from routine when it comes to eating, exercise and sleep. More parties, more entertaining and more goodies in the office may sound delightful but can be frightful when it comes to good gut health.
I have many patients who find that they are more bloated, gassy, constipated or making more frequent trips to the bathroom at this time of the year. Our gut is a creature of habit and likes consistency, so when the routine is interrupted, good gut health is disrupted.
To keep your gut health in check, try to be consistent with sleep, meal timing and food volume. Also take the time to sit down to eat instead of grab and go.
Sleep is a time for the body to rest, restore and recover. If you overeat too close to bedtime, your gut is busy digesting instead of resting, and you may experience indigestion or reflux. Try to cut off eating about 90 minutes before bed. This isn’t limited to only food, but also includes beverages with calories, such as hot cocoa, eggnog, a night cap or smoothie. That Irish coffee may be delicious, but if you want sound sleep, a decaffeinated beverage may be a better option.
Another challenge to good gut health over the holidays is meal consistency. Your regular eating routine may be challenged by impromptu get-togethers or entertaining extravaganzas. Control what you can by starting the day with a healthy breakfast and make an effort to not go too many hours without eating or hydrating.
I’m a big fan of the saying “never eat anything larger than your head!” So maybe not the entire tray of cookies, pitcher of eggnog, turkey or pumpkin pie.
Yes, you may overindulge on the delicious eats that you only have once a year, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat to the point that you feel you’re going to burst.
Ways you can minimize overeating:
— Portion your plate.
— Sit down.
— Take your time, enjoying every bite.
If you’re still hungry, you can always have more. But rather than tucking into a plate that’s overflowing, try small servings first. Your gut will thank you.
This time of the year is all about the rush — to the mall, the grocery store, family dinners and holiday events. All that dashing around isn’t good for your gut. So build in some digestion time after meals. No need to rush through a Thanksgiving meal to hurry and get the dessert on the table. Take a breather, sit and chat or get outside for some fresh air. This helps you to better digest and then have some room for the rest of your meal too.
[READ: Causes of Chronic Constipation.]
The hallmark of the holiday season is the food. Tables laden with meats, sides and delicious sweets may be a recipe for overconsumption. An abundance of treats at the office, food gifts and special holiday dishes can do number on your gut.
So think about the composition of your plate: Try for one third of the plate as produce, one third as protein and a third as carbs, which would include pasta, rolls, rice, potatoes, desserts and caloric-containing beverages such as alcohol.
To keep your digestive health in line, think about what you include on your plate over the holidays. For example, making sure you get enough fiber can help to keep you regular and minimize GI distress.
Keep the fiber on your plate with fruits, vegetables, beans and high-fiber cereals to provide the fill up, not fill out factor. A higher fiber appetizer, such as veggies and bean dip, bean soups, salad, or even an apple or pear with a spread of nut butter takes up some stomach share, leaving less room, so you may not be as inclined to overeat.
In addition, it’s a good idea to have a good gut survival kit handy. This could include:
— Prunes, which work as effectively as a natural fiber supplement to help with regularity.
— Chamomile tea, which functions as an antispasmodic. In other words, it helps to relax the gut so you may feel less uncomfortable after meals.
— Ginger, which helps settle an upset stomach.
As the temperature plummets so does our fluid intake. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you should limit your fluids. Hydration doesn’t take a holiday. Not drinking enough can sap your energy and contribute to a sluggish digestive tract.
Minimize your calories from your drinks by opting for no- or low-cal options such as:
— Sparkling or flat water with any combination of oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit slices, berries, ginger or mint.
— 100% vegetable juices.
— Unsweetened coffee and tea.
— If you opt for a calorie-containing beverage, be aware of the serving size. For milk, that’s an 8-ounce glass. For juice, a 6-ounce glass. If that seems skimpy, consider adding sparkling water to the juice to make it look like you’re getting more from your pour.
Festive occasions typically include alcoholic libations, from champagne to rum-spiked eggnog, to coffee desserts with liquors. Be aware that alcohol can be a gastric irritant and also an appetite stimulant. So no drinking on an empty stomach. Or try a festive mocktail.
Try using a shot glass to be aware of your booze intake. Think about the mixers you use. Some are quite high in sugar. If carbonation bothers you, you may want to limit bubbly mixers and brews.
A serving size of a wine is a glass, not a carafe. A drink is a shot glass, a beer is a 12-ounce can or bottle. Make the most of your toast by paying attention to what, when and how much you drink.
[See: Foods That Cause Bloating.]
Hand-to-mouth is not the only exercise that should occur over the holiday season. If your gut feels overstuffed, get up, get out and get moving. Your digestive tract is also a muscle. After a large meal, your digestive tract is on overdrive and that may not feel great.
If you get up and move after a meal, blood flow is redirected to the working muscles, and you may feel less uncomfortable. If you eat large meals and then just sink into the sofa, you may find that you feel more bloated, uncomfortable and less regular. So make the dessert course, or the course between the entree and dessert an active-izer.
So ho, ho, ho instead of oh, no when it comes to eating with reason this holiday season. Yes, you can indulge. Yes, you can celebrate without the excess or gut stress. Give yourself the gift of good gut health, so that you can enjoy your friends, family and festivities. That’s something to cheer as we head into a New Year!
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How to Keep Your Gut Happy (and Regular) Over the Holidays originally appeared on usnews.com